Comic Review: Animal Man – The Hunt (2012)

Animal ManThe Hunt (2012)
Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Travel Foreman

Rating: B

There was a time when Animal Man was just a nobody superhero. He had the power to use the abilities of any animals within reasonable range, which is actually a pretty cool power, but Buddy Baker didn’t have a lot of interest or personality until Grant Morrison took over. Morrison took Animal Man from nobody hero to vegetarian political crusader who fought some pretty strange villains and ended up becoming the only hero we know of in DC Comics who is actually aware that he is a comic book character. Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man is frankly the shit, but it didn’t take long for the character to become relatively obscure again.

A few years ago, the weekly universe-wide series 52 made Animal Man into a main character again, as he had a pretty major plot that involved among other characters Starfire and Adam Strange. After that, he had small roles in the Blackest Night crossover and James Robinson’s Cry for Justice miniseries, but this new Jeff Lemire-penned comic is the first time we’ve seen Buddy have his own book in quite some time. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Morrison days, there is a lot to enjoy about The Hunt.

The basic plot revolves around Buddy’s daughter Maxine discovering that she has powers, apparently passed down from her father somehow (despite him receiving them from aliens and not from genetics). Things pretty much go crazy when he finds her in the back yard digging up the skeletons of dead animals that she then turns into zombie skeletons. Some kind of strange web-like map appears on Buddy’s skin and his daughter informs him that in order to save the world they have to follow the map into a place called the Red. That’s about where it stops being vaguely coherent and becomes a surrealistic horror adventure into some kind of hidden nether region. I would suggest I have to read it about five or six more times to even have a vague idea about what is going on but it is definitely amusing and amazing in the way of Salvador Dali.

There are some lovely nuggets here for fans of the Morrison run on the book, but it is definitely easy to jump right into. The art is trippy and wonderful, and it is clear that Lemire has a really good grasp of who Buddy Baker is and how to make him tick. Although some reviewers are praising The Hunt as the best book of the New 52, that is going a bit far. There are certainly some issues of coherence here, but its enjoyability far outweighs its weaknesses.

Feminism & the Portrayal of Women in Comics – Part 2

I am extraordinarily pleased to see that our article about feminism and comic books continues to be one of our most read pieces, as feminism is something near and dear to my heart personally that will always be important to Android Dreamer as a website. That being said, the conclusions drawn in the article were called into questions by some readers who brought up very important points in the general discussion of the portrayal of women in comics that are absolutely worth addressing. Although it is hard to argue that comic books are inherently pro-women, I still believe that super hero comics as a medium are neither inherently feminist nor sexist; it is really a matter of the individual creators.

The first point brought up is that although it is true that women and men are both portrayed as near impossible standards, that these portrayals are specifically a male ideal of what women and men should be. Batman may be unrealistically portrayed as a Mr. Universe contestant, but that is because it is what men want to look like rather than what women want men to look like. Although the idea of what is attractive and what isn’t is definitely subjective, it is worth examination. Without the finances to conduct an official survey of what women find physically attractive in men, a quick Google search doesn’t really give the information required to give a real answer. Generally recurring answers to the questions of who the most attractive men are include people like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman, when it comes to lists of all people living and dead, and men like Brad Pitt and Robert Pattinson in talking about the hottest men of today. You are no more likely to find Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti on the hot men list than you are to find Kathy Bates and Queen Latifah on a list of the most attractive women. This isn’t because they aren’t extraordinarily talented people in their fields, but because both men and women when talking about averages of the entire population prefer people who are physically very fit when it comes to attractiveness on a completely superficial level. This holds up in the portrayal of both genders in the comic books, as both the men and women are portrayed as exaggeratedly fit. There are individual artists that may go a step too far in the way they draw their women, but on a pure eye candy level there is generally a level playing field.

Another point mentioned that frankly shouldn’t have been missed is that it is equally if not more important that women in super hero comics are written well rather than how they are portrayed physically. The first example of an extraordinarily strong female character that springs to mind is Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl who later became Oracle after being shot through the spine and left in a wheel chair by Joker. As Batgirl, she was an asset to Batman, and was successful operating on her own. As Oracle, she has proven that physical fitness and martial arts were not the only tools in her repetoire, as she is indisputably one of the most intelligent characters in the DC Universe. Despite her handicap, she used computer technology to communicate remotely with Batman and other heroes to feed them information. If Batman was in a public building, Oracle is there with the maps. If there’s a security system that needs breaking into, Oracle can hack through it before Batman even has to ask. Oracle is a wonderful character who ought to be a role model, and is proof that extraordinarily strong female characters exist in comics. It is only one example (Wonder Woman and Black Canary could also both be discussed) but she is at least proof that the genre is capable of feminist leanings.

It would be impossible to form an argument that pleases everyone when it comes to the topic, but it is worth continuing to discuss. We still don’t think that super hero comics are inherently sexist, but that writers and artists who portray women poorly ought to be called out for it. Characters like Starfire, a sexual liberated and gorgeous alien from a culture that doesn’t understand humanity’s hang-ups about sex, walk a very fine line between feminist and sexist, and it is important that the creators of these books are kept in check.

Review: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper (1962)

Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper
Avon, 1962

Rating: B

It is only natural that, after having so enthusiastically enjoyed the recent John Scalzi reboot Fuzzy Nation, we would immediately seek out the original source material and compare it to the newer versions. H. Beam Piper isn’t a very widely known name in science fiction, but Litte Fuzzy is essentially his biggest legacy; it received a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1962, but lost out to Philip K. Dick’s absolutely outstanding The Man in the High Castle. Little Fuzzy may not be The Man in the High Castle, but it is a fun story with lots of warmth and heart that make it worthwhile.

The basic plot is the same as the later Scalzi version: a surveyor named Jack Holloway on a remote planet discovers a sentient species of fuzzy cat-like creatures that threaten Zarathustra Corporation’s right to mine the planets resources and essentially entirely destroy its environment. Holloway takes some convincing in Fuzzy Nation, but in Little Fuzzy he is the first person to get behind supporting the Fuzzies and their rights. While the modern Holloway is a thirty-something scruffy smartass, the original Jack Holloway here is a midde-aged man with gray hair that exudes pure gentleness; the only things they really have in common are the name and career choice.

Although the major plot points are the same, the journey between major points is entirely different. Little Fuzzy doesn’t have quite the same level of drama that Fuzzy Nation does, nor does it quite manage to be as horribly soul-wrenching. That being said, it is absolutely notable for its originality and the general feel of the novel. Piper is a very good writer who knows how to write adorable little fuzzy things without making it ever verge on cheese.

One might be tempted to listen to the audio book of Little Fuzzy if you received it for free with Fuzzy Nation, but we would recommend skipping it and reading it in print. The reading packaged with Fuzzy Nation (brilliantly read by Wil Wheaton) is read by someone else entirely and is frankly painful to listen to at times. It is possible that a better reading is out there, but we would suggest seeking it in print instead. Fuzzy Nation is a superior novel but Little Fuzzy is the original and is so full of heart that it is difficult not to recommend.

Review: Philip K. Dick – Radio Free Albemuth (1985)

Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick
Arbor House, 1985, 214 pp.

Rating: A

Philip K. Dick is nothing if not a paranoid genius. Perhaps, in his case, he had the right to be: in the middle of McCarthy’s Red Scare, Dick’s home was raided and torn apart by FBI agents probably looking for a connection between him and the Communist Party. They came back repeatedly to interrogate Philip, and it apparently did no good for an already troubled psyche. Radio Free Albemuth is essentially straight out of this period, a novel full of paranoid government rebellion and a strange brand of Gnostic Christianity that is so bizarre that it feels true.

There are two primary characters of Radio Free Albemuth, a novel that was shelved by Dick after serious re-writes were demanded by his publishers. The first is Nicholas, a man born in Chicago who moved to Berkeley, California at a very young age, much like the writer himself. He works at a record store and receives very clear visions in his dreams that he knows to be messages from God, or from aliens. The other primary protagonist and narrator of the story is Philip K. Dick himself, a science fiction writer based out of Orange County known for the populariy of his novels The Man in the High Castle and Flow Your Tears, The Policeman Said among others. President Ferris F. Fremont is a kind of terrifying amalgam of real-life president Richard Nixon and crazed Senator McCarthy himself. This is the Red Scare in overdrive.

Nicholas and Philip are both harassed throughout the story by government ages trying to connect them to communist sympathizers in the area. Of course, Nicholas and his partner are indeed linked to the party, but do their best to hide it from FBI agents who pretty assuredly know everything. Philip K. Dick goes through similar interrogation and some entrapment, including being seduced by a drugged up agent who tries to convince him after the fact that she is in fact underage and he will be arrested for statuatory rape if he doesn’t come clean. Another character, Sylvia, is introduced in the second half of the book as someone who has a similar connection to the general scheme of things to Nicholas, and becomes his sort of partner-in-crime in the leadup to their final act of rebellion against the fascist state.

The novel as a whole is a perfectly executed criticism of the sort of Stalinist and neo-Fascist bent of the Republican Party of the era. It is brilliantly written with constantly flawless dialogue that never lulls—not for a second. Although this is one of Dick’s lesser known novels, it is also one of his most poignant; there are several scenes over the course of the novel that are extremely memorable for either their dark humor, brilliant political satire, or simple tragedy. While some readers have criticized this novel for not being particularly accessible, and it may be a harder read than some of Philip K. Dick’s more mainstream efforts, it ought to be seen as one of his more essential novels. Radio Free Albemuth seems to imply that alien visitors from outer space are the source of all world religions; prophets are simply people receiving messages from benevolent (but not omnipotent) extraterrestrials who seek to help us cast off our chains. It may be bizarre, but Philip K. Dick’s brilliance is as prevalent here as it ever was.